Global - The first concerto ever written for steelpan and orchestra was written by Dr. Jan Bach. Rest in Peace. 12/11/1937-10/30/2020.
“Concerto for Steelpan and Orchestra” - the ground-breaking 22-minute work of composer and educator Dr. Jan Bach of Northern Illinois University (NIU) - was most recently performed by NIU baccalaureate and soon to be Masters candidate, panist Mia Gormandy. Originally written for then student, world-renowned panist Liam Teague (and now-Assistant Professor of Steel Pan and co-director of NIU’s steelband) back in 1994, it has since been performed throughout the USA and as far afield as Prague, capital of the Czech Republic.
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PERSONAL NOTES: A CONVERSATION WITH COMPOSER JAN BACH
“...When I finished the Steelpan Concerto - considering that the steelpan has 30 notes, isolated little circles spread out on a concave surface, without even the help of certain notes being raised the way they are on a piano keyboard - I thought, “What have I done? Liam hasn’t seen the piece. Is he going to be able to play it, or has this been a wasted exercise?” I was fortunate. He spent his Christmas vacation learning it, and when he came back he had only one request: “Can I play the second movement faster?” I said “Yes, by all means!” --- Jan Bach
Composer Jan Bach, a professor of theory and composition at Northern Illinois university and a six-time nominee for a Pulitzer, takes commissions only from ensembles he’s never written for before. “I do like new challenges and live in fear - among many phobias; I really believe most composers are nuts - that I will repeat myself if I write for the same combination twice.” Bach - no relation to J.S., he’s constantly having to say - is a native of Forrest, Illinois, a farming town an hour from Urbana. He started writing music at an early age, and as a student at the University of Illinois, where he received a doctorate in composition, he tested out of a year’s worth of theory classes. His teachers have included Aaron Copland and Thea Musgrave. He’s had commissions from, among others, the Vermeer Quartet, the Chicago Brass Quintet, and the Indianapolis Symphony, and his works have been performed at the Aldeburgh Festival and New York City Opera. Bach writes for standard instruments - piano, flute, voice, cello, harp. But he also writes for exotic ones in exotic combinations - flexatone, steel pan. His Concerto for Steelpan and Orchestra, written for Liam Teague, a native of Trinidad and a student at NIU, premiered late last year in performances by the Chicago Sinfonietta. The audience responded to the work with far more enthusiasm than is normally the case with world premieres, and the members of the orchestra seemed to genuinely enjoy themselves. Bach bounded onstage afterward, beaming broadly, to congratulate Teague and the other players. “In the planning stages of my pieces I constantly keep in front of me the image of my musicians and their audience bored to death. So I ask myself, ‘What can I do to make this 10, 15, 20, 25 minutes interesting to my public? When will their interest flag, and what can I do to restore it? What purpose will this piece serve which has not been fulfilled by several other pieces by other composers?”’
Listen and Watch Jan Bach’s Concerto for Steelpan and Orchestra